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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9185


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (20:11): There has been much emphasis on parliamentary representation but this Chiapas Declaration encompassed other plenary sessions to discuss the matter—situation impact studies, the need for free, prior and informed consent et cetera. I commend the nature of this resolution.

I want to refer to another UN related area on Indigenous people. I was pleased to recently attend the Nepalese Indigenous Nationalities Forum's annual event at Campsie, with about 300 in attendance. Since 2006 this organisation has been about demonstrating the rights of Indigenous people in Nepal. It has been about making sure there is language preservation through the holding of conferences. I want to commend Ganesh Tamang and others for making sure that these issues are raised on behalf of indigenous Nepalese in Australia.

Where we do not have consent around the world we see realities such as the San people being thrown off their land in Botswana on behalf of De Beers and its diamond interests. We see the deforestation of Brazil and Peru and the throwing of people out of their villages and off their land without any consultation in regard to mining in those countries. We see the movement of large numbers of people into the Jumma people's lands in Bangladesh. I want to stress the work of Kabita Chakma in Australia. For a group that has only about 100 or 150 people in this nation, it has very much punched above its weight in raising these issues with the federal government. We see the situation of Uighurs and Tibetans in China, where there is not any consideration of their rights—no role in their nation's representation, no consideration of their needs.

Whilst the previous speaker who spoke in this debate said that we do things pretty well in Australia, I am not sure it is all that brilliant, quite frankly. We have a situation where life expectancy of Indigenous males is 11.5 years lower, and females 9.7 years lower, than non-Indigenous Australians. We know the Closing the gap report showed that Indigenous Australians are four times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to die when they are 35 to 44. The member for Fremantle referred to only one of the many deaths of Indigenous people in incarceration. It is just a bit too common seeing Taser attacks in police stations that have a disproportionate representation of Indigenous people. Reading rates for Indigenous people in years 3 to 9 are 18.6 per cent to 21.6 per cent of non-Indigenous people. Writing rates are between 16.3 and 31.4 per cent of non-Indigenous people.

The government has moved ahead in regard to the Healing Foundation and the apology to Indigenous Australians. It has talked about concepts of closing this life-expectancy gap within a generation, halving the gap in the mortality rate and halving the gap for Indigenous students in year 12, or equivalent attainment rates, by 2020. These are noble sentiments. I appreciate that the government has also devoted money to increasing the understanding of Australians and the need to recognise Indigenous people in our Constitution. But we cannot pretend that things are pretty in Australia with regard to Indigenous Australians.

I certainly commend this motion. I agree with the previous speaker insofar as whether you have seven Indigenous people in this parliament or four might not be, by itself, that crucial to Indigenous people's rights but it is a part of a broader agenda, as this resolution indicates. This declaration was adopted by a large variety of countries at an international conference. The organisations that were involved in it included the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Mexican congress, the government of the state of Chiapas—Chiapas historically had major conflicts in the nineties regarding Indigenous rights—and the United Nations. It covers the gamut of things that can be done.

If we can make sure we do consider Indigenous rights when legislation comes before this parliament, if we can have sessions that do raise the awareness of these issues, then these are valuable things. To decry them as over-regulation or over-bureaucratisation is to run away from facing very significant problems in this country. As I said earlier, we can go around the world and see a wide variety of nations where Indigenous people are deprived of their rights, where their languages are disappearing because of lack of government support and where their culture is disappearing. I very much believe this resolution coming out of this conference is well and truly overdue.